This month we take a look at one of the most creative musicians of the 20th century, – the inimitable Jimi Hendrix.
Although sadly dying at the age of 27, from drug-related complications, he left an indelible mark on the world of rock music and remains hugely influential to this day.
Jimi Hendrix was born as Johnny Allen Hendrix at 10:15 a.m. on November 27, 1942, at Seattle’s King County Hospital, and was later renamed James Marshall by his father, James “Al” Hendrix. His mother who was just 17 when he was born, had endured a difficult relationship with his father, Al, and after the couple had had two more children together, she left the family, meaning that Hendrix experienced a difficult early childhood, often living in the care of relatives or acquaintances.
In many ways, and encouraged by his father who bought him his first guitar at the age of 16, music became a sanctuary for Hendrix. He was a fan of blues and rock and roll, immersing himself in the songs of the major artists of the time such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Holly. Unable to read music, Hendrix, taught himself to play by simply concentrating on the sounds and soon joined his first band, The Velvetones. However he left the group after just 3 months, preferring to pursue his own musical direction.
By the following year, and after Al had managed to buy Jimmy his first electric guitar, he then dropped out of college and supported himself with a series of odd jobs while performing with a new band, the Rocking Kings.
Following in his father’s footsteps, in 1961 he enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed in Kentucky, where he formed The King Casuals with bassist Billy Cox as well as achieving the right to wear the “Screaming Eagles” patch for the paratroop division. After being discharged due to an injury he received during a parachute jump, Jimmy began working as a session guitarist under the name Jimmy James, where he played with acts such Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, and Little Richard. By the end of 1965 he had once again formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, relinquishing the role of back-line guitarist and returning to the spotlight of lead guitar, performing at small venues throughout Greenwich Village.
It was during this time that he was spotted by Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler who in September 1966, persuaded him to move to London, change his name to Jimi and, along with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In early 1967, the band’s debut single spent ten weeks on the UK charts, reaching spot No. 6 and was quickly followed by the release of a full-length album “Are You Experienced”. The iconic psychedelic musical compilation featured anthems of a generation, and has remained one of the most popular rock albums of all time.
Returning to play at the Monterey International Pop Festival in America in June 1967, and still relatively unheard of despite his overwhelming success in the UK, his incendiary performance of “Wild Thing”, turned The Jimi Hendrix Experience into one of most popular and highest grossing touring acts in the world.
Following on from this success, Hendrix started to take even greater control over his own musical direction, spending hours working at the studios to refine his sound and later building his own recording studio, Electric Lady Studios in New York City. Sadly, the demands of album releases, touring, and studio work took its toll, and in 1969 the group disbanded.
In the summer of 1969, at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, Jimi joined forces with an eclectic ensemble called Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, which featured Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, Juma Sultan, and Jerry Velez, and their renegade version of “Star Spangled Banner,” brought the mud-soaked audience to a frenzy. To watch a short video of this incredible event click here.
The same year also saw the formation of the Band of Gypsys, a collaboration which featured Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Billy Cox on bass guitar and Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles.
By the beginning of 1970 Jimi brought back drummer Mitch Mitchell to the group and together with Billy Cox on bass, once again formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience and started recording tracks for a two LP set, tentatively titled First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. Due to his demanding worldwide touring schedule and then tragic death on September 18, Hendrix was unable to see this musical vision through to completion.
Thanks to the support of his family, and the original studio engineer Eddie Kramer, the recordings were finally released in 1977.
Whilst his career was tragically short, Hendrix generated an amazing collection of songs, which continue to make him one of the most popular figures in the history of Rock Music.