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Hendrix, Jimi

Hendrix, Jimi

November 27, 1942
September 18, 1970

In a professional career that lasted less than a decade, rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix created music that would establish him as the most innovative and influential guitarist rock music produced.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix started to play the guitar at age eleven and was playing with local rock groups as a teenager. He left school at sixteen, and with his father's permission joined the army as a paratrooper a year later. While in the service he met bass player Billy Cox, with whom he would later join forces as a civilian. Hendrix's army career ended when he was injured on a practice jump.

Once out of the army, he hit what was known as the chitlin circuit as a backup guitarist for a host of popular rock and rhythm-and-blues artists including Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, Curtis Knight, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, King Curtis, and James Brown. During this period, which lasted from 1962 to 1964, he began incorporating his trademark crowd-pleasers: playing his guitar with his teeth, behind his back, and between his legs. Early in his career, Hendrix played ambidextrously but he eventually settled on using a right-handed Fender Stratocaster, restrung upside down and played left handed. He manipulated the tone and volume controls (which were

now on top) to make unique effects and sounds. Hendrix's huge hands allowed him a phenomenal reach and range; his ability to play clean leads and distorted rhythm simultaneously remains a musical mystery.

In 1964 Hendrix moved to New York and using the name Jimmy James fronted his own band, called the Blue Flames. In the mid-sixties, at the height of the folk music era, he became known in New York. Holding forth as a solo act at the Cafe Wha?, a basement cafe on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, he also found time to play local venues as a sideman with a group called Curtis Knight and the Squires, and in Wilson Pickett's band, where he met the young drummer Buddy Miles. In 1967 Chas Chandler (formerly the bassist of the Animals) convinced Hendrix to return with him to London. On the promise that he would meet Eric Clapton, Hendrix agreed. In England, in just three weeks, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed, with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass. "Hey Joe," their first single, went all the way to number six on the British charts in 1967, and an appearance on the British television show Ready, Steady, Go attracted wide attention when Hendrix played their new single, "Purple Haze."

The same year, Paul McCartney persuaded the Monterey Pop Festival officials to book Hendrix even though his first album had yet to be released. He ended a riveting musical performance by his setting his guitar on fire, transforming himself, at twenty-four, into a rock superstar. Later in 1967 his debut album Are You Experienced? was called by Guitar Players' Jas Obrecht "the most revolutionary debut album in rock guitar history."

In 1968 he released his second album, Axis: Bold as Love, which contained more of his distinctive sounds in such songs as "Little Wing," "If 6 was 9," and "Castles Made of Sand." His third album, a double set titled Electric Ladyland, was released just nine months later. Hendrix created a recording studio of the same name in Greenwich Village, a reflection of his belief that he was connected to a female spirit/muse of fire and electricity.

In 1969 Hendrix performed at the Woodstock Festival, the only black performer of his time to penetrate the largely white world of hard and psychedelic rock. He was pressured by black groups to take a more political stance but took no part in formal politics; his political statement was in his music, and his electric version of the "Star-Spangled Banner," which he played at Woodstock, was in itself a political statement.

Later that year Hendrix formed the all-black Band of Gypsys with former army friend Bill Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. Although the group lasted only a few months, a live performance was captured on the album Band of Gypsys. Hendrix's management believed it was a mistake for him to forsake his white rock side, and he was pressured to make an adjustment. Hendrix finally settled on Mitch Mitchell on drums with Billy Cox on bass. They performed at the club Isle of Fehmarn in West Germany on September 6, 1970. Twelve days later Hendrix died in London after complications resulting from barbiturate use.

Although Hendrix's period as a headline performer lasted only three years, his influence on popular music has been considerable. In helping to establish the prime role of the electric guitar soloist, he was an inspiration for several generations of heavy metal musicians. His improvisatory style has inspired both jazz musicians and practitioners of avant-garde "new music."

See also Brown, James; Little Richard (Penniman, Richard); Music in the United States


Henderson, David. Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Chile'. New York: Doubleday, 1978.

Henderson, David. 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: The Life of Jimi Hendrix. New York: Bantam, 1981.

Lawrence, Sharon. Jimi Hendrix: The Man, the Magic, the Truth. New York: Harper, 2005.

david henderson (1996)
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