Jimi Hendrix : One of the Greatest Musicians That Ever Lived

Jimi Hendrix Live, Royal Albert Hall 1969

Jimi Hendrix - One of a Kind

Jimi Hendrix took a standard Fender Stratocaster, flipped it, strung it in reverse and turned it into a sonic surfboard, a fierce assault weapon, an instrument of incomparable beauty - a shooting star chartered on a journey into unknown reaches of the musical cosmos. With blazing intensity and seemingly infinite creativity, Hendrix gathered a vast spectrum of guitar styles including blues, R&B, jazz, soul and rock and fused them to give birth to a truly revolutionary sound and style. When Jimi hit the stage he turned the world of rock guitar on its head, re-writing the book on guitar playing and contemporary music. Jimi Hendrix remains one of the most influential musicians that have ever lived.

I was in my mid-teens and a friend had the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, ‘Are You Experienced’, released in ‘67, playing in his room. We were getting stoned and listening to it in wonderment. Jimi had been dead for 14 years but it was like hearing a musical wizard from outer space. From the beautiful melody and poetic lyrics of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ to the psychedelic and other-worldly ‘Purple Haze’ and everything in-between, Hendrix left an indelible mark on us both from that day on. Nearly 30 years later as an active guitarist, the musical genius and the guitar mastery that Hendrix possessed blows my mind more than ever.

Early Days in Seattle

On the 27th November, 1942, James Marshall Hendricks arrived in the world. His grandmother was a full blooded Cherokee and his father, ‘Al’ was African American. Right off the bat Jimi was exposed to R&B through his dad’s record collection. He was blowing on a harmonica at just 4, and at 15, shortly after his mother died from alcoholism he bought an acoustic guitar off a friend of his dad’s for $5.

Jimi went electric at 17 when his dad bought him a Supro Ozark, which he practiced on several hours a day – unplugged – there was no money for an amplifier at this stage. According to his dad, Jimi was a shy and sensitive kid and suffered from the unstable home environment, the death of his mother and their poverty. Early influences on Hendrix were Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and B.B King. Jimi was fired by the band mid-gig during his first performance in the basement of a synagogue for being overly theatrical – a sign of things to come. He went on to play in The Velvetones and the Rocking Kings during his teens.

Army or Jail?

Hendrix enlisted in the army in 1961 after getting into hot water with the law for riding in stolen cars – he was facing the army or two years in jail. Predictably, Hendrix made a terrible soldier and his superiors wanted him out of the army and arranged his discharge a year after signing up. Hendrix later told reporters that he broke his ankle during a parachute jump. One good thing to come out of his time at the Fort Campbell base was meeting bass player Billy Cox – the two struck up a good friendship and performed together at the base, and following their discharge, in Nashville, where there was a happening R&B scene amongst the black community. They went by the name ‘The Casuals’ which morphed into ‘King Kasuals’ after learning that there was another band by the same name.

The Chitlin’ Circuit , The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Curtis Knight and the Squires

In the early 60’s Hendrix played the famous Chitlin’ circuit developing his style and working hard to please mostly black audiences who were known to be a tough crowd on bands. Hendrix’s frustration with band leaders and crowd expectations motivated him to leave for New York. He moved into a hotel in Harlem in 1964 and shortly after won first prize in the Apollo Theater amateur contest. Hendrix sat in with various bands before being offered a spot as guitar player for the Isley Brothers. Hendrix went on to tour with the Isley Brother and recorded “Testify” with them before leaving the band to tour and record with Little Richard about whom Jimi remarked, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice." But Jimi’s stage antics and turning up late grated on Richard and Jimi was fired from the band after missing the tour bus in Washington D.C. Jimi rejoined the Isley Brothers in 1965. Later in the same year Hendrix joined Curtis Knight and the Squires, and recorded with them. Hendrix started using the name Jimmy James and formed his first band, ‘The Blue Flames’. The band played around New York and in early 1966, Linda Keith, girlfriend of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, struck up a friendship with Hendrix in the Cheetah Club. She wanted to introduce Jimi to some people that she hoped would lead to bigger things for Hendrix.

Jimi Hendrix Live at the Saville Theatre

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Monterey Pop Festival, The Wind Cries Mary, Jimi Hendrix

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham as well as producer, Seymour Stein, passed after hearing Hendrix but Chas Chandler who had just finished as bass player with The Animals was taken with Hendrix’s rendition of Hey Joe and took him to London and signed Hendrix to a management and production contract with himself and ex-Animals manager Michael Jeffery. Chas suggested Hendrix change the spelling of Jimmy to Jimi and helped form the The Jimi Hendrix Experience with guitarist turned bass player, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell on drums. Chandler introduced Jimi to Eric Clapton who had just formed Cream. Clapton agreed to let Jimi join them on stage for a jam which was the beginning of a strong friendship between the two master guitarists.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience hit the clubs and made UK TV appearances causing a huge buzz. “Who was this wild savant guitar player from America called Jimi Hendrix?” He gained instant respect and acknowledgment from other master class guitar players including Clapton, Pete Townsend of The Who, Brian Jones, Jeff Beck as well as all of The Beatles. The bands first hit was a cover of Hey Joe and then Hendrix made the leap into songwriting and produced Stone Free, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary which all became UK Top 10 Hits. Hendrix’s first releases were also big in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Japan but didn’t sell well in America.

The bands first album, “Are You Experienced” ,was denied the number one spot for bestselling album only because of the release of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles. The Experience followed the album with heavy touring in the UK and Europe and Hendrix used the opportunity to unleash his stage presence and set his guitar on fire for the first time, possibly the first time a guitar player had ever done so, at the end of the band’s performance at the Walker Brothers Farewell tour on March 31, 1967. Another famous performance was on June 4, 1967, at the Saville Theatre in London. It was their last show of the tour before hitting America and plenty of rock royalty were in attendance including Eric Clapton, Brian Epstein, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Spencer Davis, Lulu and others. Hendrix opened with “Sergeant Peppers” which he had worked out and re-modeled Hendrix style moments before backstage. Those lucky enough to be at the Saville that night speak in tones of awe at the performance Jimi gave.

Success in America

Paul McCartney can take some credit in kick starting the popularity and fame of Hendrix in the US by putting in a good word with the organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival. The event received huge coverage by journalists and was filmed by Pennebaker, including the Experience’s performance which included renditions of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ by Bob Dylan and The Trogg’s ‘Wild Thing’ ending with Jimi setting light to his guitar. Bob Dylan’s songwriting had a major impact on Hendrix and he was a big fan.

It was in New York that Hendrix met guitarist, Frank Zappa (Mother’s of Invention) and became intrigued with his newly purchased wah wah pedal. Jimi went out and bought one right away from famed music store Manny’s and started using it at performances at the Fillmore where they were the headlining act. At this time The Monkees were on their first American tour and asked for Hendrix to open for them but the sweet teen girls weren’t ready for Hendrix with his snarling guitar coming at them out of four Marshall 100w heads and multiple 4x12 speaker cabinets. The Experience pulled out of the tour – Chandler claimed later that it was a publicity stunt to give more notoriety to Hendrix and his reputation as a wild, mad genius.

Axis: Bold As Love

Album Cover Axis Bold As Love
Album Cover Axis Bold As Love
Jimi Attacks His Guitar
Jimi Attacks His Guitar

Axis : Bold As Love

Released in 1967, this was the first album the band recorded in stereo and full use was made of mixing sound from left to right channel creating a mystical quality when combined with Jimi’s avant-garde guitar playing. For the entire album Jimi tuned down a half step to E flat and made good use of his new toy – the wah wah. After this album Jimi stuck with tuning down to E flat, favoring the sound and some say making vibrato bends more controllable. Hendrix happened to leave the master tape of side A in a cab causing delays and with Christmas approaching the album was hurried along to make the release date. Apparently Hendrix was not entirely satisfied with the album and didn’t care for the cover artwork either, which has an Indian Hindu theme in ‘cartoonish’ styling. Jimi commented that reference to his real Cherokee heritage would have made more sense. The album was released while the Experience were on tour in the UK. A short time after, Hendrix went nuts in a Sweedish hotel room while on tour and trashed the place resulting in an injured hand, a court trial and a sizeable fine. Friends of Hendrix witnessed Jimi get out of hand after drinking a number of times. He clocked long time girlfriend Kathy Etchingham over the head with a phone handle in a jealous rage on one occasion at a London pub. Hendrix had his favorite black hat stolen on this tour.

Electric Ladyland

Electric Ladyland Album Cover
Electric Ladyland Album Cover
Jimi Hendrix Feeling the Song
Jimi Hendrix Feeling the Song

Electric Ladyland

Released in 1968, Electric Ladyland is considered by many to be Hendrix’s masterpiece- the recording that he had been working towards since he first went into the studio. To my ear it’s a double record of guitar driven symphonies that have a heavenly quality that no other guitar player has produced. Hendrix was very active as producer and director on this project as the credits on the cover acknowledge. With the help of sound engineer Eddie Kramer, Hendrix was able to take the reins and finally enjoy the creative control he always longed for. The studio he built for the project on Eighth Street still bears the name of the album.

With some close friends he holed up in this studio and went to work manipulating sounds that were intended to transport the listener to a heavenly place complete with sounds of him breathing, horn fills, organ swells and speaker bouncing as well as truly masterful guitar playing. Songs like Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” would make an indelible mark in music history. On this album Hendrix expanded his musical world with what jazz players call ‘out playing’ and experimented with wandering bass lines that are drawn back into rock heaven when they return to the beat. Hendrix drops so many hot licks on the tracks of this album a guitar player could make the study of it a major work. Hendrix was apparently manic in his devotion to getting this album right – sometimes to the frustration of other musicians who would be awoken in the middle of the night because Hendrix had an idea and wanted to start recording. “Gypsy Eyes” was said to have been recorded 43 times before Jimi was satisfied with the result. Noel Redding walked out a few times in frustration so Jimi completed the bass tracks himself. Interviewed years later, Chas Chandler commented that Hendrix was loaded on LSD most of the time and had lost touch with reality - Chandler walked out in frustration towards the end of the project.

Jimi Hendrix Plays Woodstock, 1969

Woodstock

By 1969 Hendrix was growing restless with where his music was at and at the same time, Noel Redding was becoming frustrated that he was really a guitarist masquerading as a bass player. Redding formed his own band called Fat Mattress which opened for a few Experience shows. Hendrix jokingly called them Thin Mattress. Hendrix teamed up with his old friend Billy Cox on bass who played at the Woodstock festival on August 18, 1969. For Woodstock, Hendrix added rhythm guitarist Larry Lee (another old friend from his R&B days), and percussionists Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez to the line up. It was to be Hendrix’s longest performance in his short career, ending famously with an improvised rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. The MC introduced the band as “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” but Jimi grabbed the mic and declared they were "Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, for short it's nothin’ but a band of gypsies". While playing “Red House” the neck of Hendrix’s guitar snapped.

Band of Gypsys

Band of Gypsys Live 1970

Band of Gypsys

In late ’69, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, the Band of Gypsys recorded their Band of Gypsys LP – the only official release of a live album in Hendrix’s career. The Band of Gypsys gave their final performance in January of 1970 at Madison Square Garden. They didn’t make the stage until 3am by which time Jimi was well messed up and after playing “Earth Blues” remarked, “This is what happens when earth fucks with space – never forget that” and walked off stage. It was rumored that Jimi was whacked on acid given to him to by the manager of the Experience to sabotage their act and get the old line up back together.

Mitch and Noel flew in for a planned Experience tour – The Cry of Love – which launched in April at the L.A Forum. The tour was organized partly to pay for the huge bill racked up with Warner Bros during the recording of Electric Ladyland. Redding was sidelined from the start and Billy Cox played bass on the 30 show tour in which Hendrix is said to have given some of his most unforgettable performances which included new material. Check out the YouTube video of Hendrix in Maui, Hawaii towards the close of the tour.

Mohter Earth- Ronnie Scott's Club, 1979

European Tour, Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix had spent just over two months recording in his newly constructed studio, Electric Lady before heading off for a European tour. His heart was never really in it and at a show in Aarhus he walked off stage after just two songs declaring, “I’ve been dead a long time.”  Hendrix was beginning to take a new musical direction and fans wanted the same old songs and tricks. During his last concert performance on 6th September, 1970 in Germany, the crowd booed and heckled him. Billy Cox blew off the tour and flew home reportedly suffering paranoia after a bad acid trip. Hendrix flew to London and had chats with Chas Chandler about firing Michael Jeffrey and getting new management.

The last time Jimi played in public, just 24 hours before his death, was in Soho at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club with Burdon’s band War. Most of the performance was recorded on a Sony tape recorder and was later circulated and eventually re-mastered in California in 2010.

BBC News Announces the Death of Hendrix

The Shadowy Death of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix died in London on the 18th September, 1970 at just 27 years old. He was picked up from a late night party by his girlfriend at the time, Monika Dannemann and taken to her flat in Notting Hill. Dannemann’s accounts of the events leading to Jimi’s death were inconsistent - her original testimony was that Hendrix had taken 9 of her German brand sleeping pills, Vesperax. The doctor that initially attended to Hendrix claimed that the cause of death was asphyxiation on his own vomit consisting mostly of red wine. For a long time Dannemann maintained that she found Jimi unconscious sometime around 9am and that he was alive when the ambulance arrived at 11.30am and that she rode with him in the ambulance. However police and ambulance reports show that there was no one found in the house when they arrived except for Hendrix who had been dead for some time. Eric Burdon (from The Animals) after reading lyrics written by Jimi found in the apartment formed the opinion that Hendrix had committed suicide and declared this to the press. 

In 1996, Jim Hendrix’s long time English girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham brought a libel case against Monika Dannemann shortly after which Dannemann committed suicide.

Discussion of Jimi Hendrix on South Bank Show 1989

Jeff Beck Talks About Jimi Hendrix

John Frusciante Talks About Jimi Hendrix

Slash Talk About Jimi Hendrix

Guitar Tabs for Learning Jimi Hendrix Songs

The Legacy of Jimi Hendrix

One can’t help but wonder where Hendrix would have taken music next if given the chance. Just days after his death, Jimi was scheduled to start working with famed musical and orchestral arranger, Gil Evens, who had previously worked with Miles Davis. As a guitarist Hendrix revealed the sonic capabilities of the electric guitar, extracting sounds never previously conceived by other players and employing techniques that are still being studied and copied to this day. Other major league players in his time like Townsend and Clapton declared him the most exciting performer ever. His music took blues to another level and helped define hard rock.

A lot of people regard Jimi Hendrix as the greatest guitarist of all time and one of the true innovators of guitar driven music. By association he added great fame to the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson SG, Marshall Amplification, the wah-wah pedal, Fuzz face, Octavia and Univibe pedals. Today, the name Jimi Hendrix is Googled over a million times a month and in 2010 the posthumous release of “Valleys of Neptune” entered the Billboard 200 at No. 4 putting the rock legend back in the top five nearly 40 years after he died at the tragically young age of 27. No other artist has cracked the top five this long after his death with Elvis Presley in second place. Make sure that you check out the YouTube video of The South Bank Show for a fantastic discussion of Hendrix including commentary by Eric Clapton and Chas Chandler as well as great footage of Hendrix - some of it rare. The video can't be embedded the link provided will direct you straight to the video on Youtube's own site. It's the first of a 7 part series of videos.

In my next article I'm going to talk about Hendrix’s sound, style, technique and some great instructional books, accurate guitar tabs and YouTube videos that will help guitarists learn the ways of the great guitar wizard – Mr. Jimi Hendrix.

Official and Unofficial Recordings by Jimi Hendrix:

1967 - Are You Experienced?

1967 - Axis- Bold as Love

1968 - Electric Ladyland

1969 - Live at the Royal Albert Hall (bootleg)

1970 - Band Of Gypsys

1972 - Hendrix In The West

1986 - Jimi Plays Monterey

1991 - Stages (4 CD's)

1993 - The Ultimate Experience

1994 - Blues

1997 - First Rays Of The New Rising Sun

1998 - BBC Sessions (2 CD's)

1999 - Live at the Fillmore East (2 CD's)

1999 - Live at Woodstock (2 CD's)

2001 - Voodoo Child- The Jimi Hendrix Collection (2 CD's)

2002 - Baggy's Rehearsal Sessions

2002 - Blue Wild Angel- Live at the Isle of Wight (2 CD's)

2002 - The Last Experience (3 CD's)

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DigiTech JamMan Solo Looper Pedal Review

Vox amPlug Headphone Guitar Amplifier

Learn Guitar: Beginner’s Chords and Tips for Playing

Play Guitar: Barre Chords for Acoustic and Electric Guitar

Learning Guitar: Pentatonic Scales and Lead Patterns

DigiTech RP255: A Powerful Creative Tool

Fender Squier Classic Vibe 50s Strat

Gibson SG: Fast, Sleek, Powerful and Born to Rock

Fender Pro Junior Combo Amp: Pure Tube Sound

Play Guitar: Diatonic Scales and Lead Patterns

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King of Fuzz Guitar Pedals: The Legendary Big Muff Pi by Electro-Harmonix

ZT Lunchbox Amp : Smallest 200W Amp in the World

Sexy Girl Electric Guitar Players

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix 1969
Jimi Hendrix 1969
Hendrix 1970
Hendrix 1970
Jimi Hendrix on a Gibson SG Custom
Jimi Hendrix on a Gibson SG Custom

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi with friends in Canada after his acquittal on charges of heroin and hash possession found in his luggage at the airport
Jimi with friends in Canada after his acquittal on charges of heroin and hash possession found in his luggage at the airport
Jimi with long-time girlfriend Kathy Etchingham
Jimi with long-time girlfriend Kathy Etchingham
Hendrix's scorched guitar
Hendrix's scorched guitar
Jimi with his Gibson Flying V
Jimi with his Gibson Flying V

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Comments 6 comments

Anne Pettit profile image

Anne Pettit 5 years ago from North Carolina

I have always liked Jimi Hendrix also. I learned a lot more about him from your hub. Well done!


shimla profile image

shimla 5 years ago Author

Thanks so much Anne. I wish we had all gotten to see what Jimi was going to do next in his musical career - seemed he was going to a new level, less angst, even more beauty, plunging deeper yet into a dimension of music.


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 4 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

Beautiful biography and inside commentary. A one off genius. I was 15 when I heard of his death - extremely gutted I never got to see him play. What a surprise when Voodo Chile got to no1 in the UK, I think in 1971. Had most of his vinyl LP's - purchased from a shop in Camden Town London - and spent countless hours soaking them up in complete disbelief at his outrageous techniques. What a guy. There's a wonderful movie/documentary made about Jimi that shows him relaxed, playing a 12 string acoustic on a stool I recall - magical.

Your hub is nicely written and packed with good things.

I must read the next one.


shimla profile image

shimla 4 years ago Author

Thanks chef-de-jour. I love that bit of film where he's playing Here My Train A'commin'. At first he stops the camera and says something like, 'Stop, can we start again, I was scared to death', and then he totally nails it. I wish I had seen him play more than any othe dead musician. Here's to Jimi, a musical genius from another world.


iwriteforyou profile image

iwriteforyou 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Thanks for putting this hub together. I will never get bored of reading about Jimi Hendrix or watching his performances. He is amazing and still greatly missed.

Good job


Randy Horizon profile image

Randy Horizon 20 months ago from Philadelphia

Hendrix has always blown my mind. I remember the day he died, my friend was throwing a party and we were all very high. We all bowed in a moment of silence. Jimi Hendrix has had a huge influence on my guitar playing style over the years. Learned a lot about his life that I did not know from reading your hub. Great job and thanks for the info. :)

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