Jimi, This Is For You
What Did You Like Most About Jimi Hendrix?
This is the true story about two young boys. One, born November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. The other boy born November 27, 1953, in Haleyville, Alabama.
The first boy was considered unique by his few friends who knew him well. Some of this young boy’s friends went as far as calling him ‘magically-creative.’
The second boy was considered unfocused, whimsical, and lazy by his family and what few friends he had for a short while. If he were to be described in one word, it would be: OBSCURE.
The first boy had dreams that mortal man couldn’t grasp, while the second boy’s dreams were subjects of scorn, laughter, and ridicule. One night as he lay sleeping, all of his dreams turned to smoke. Vapor. And were lost forever.
The first boy was guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Jimi Hendrix, born November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. Hendrix mastered the guitar as a teenager and grew up to become a rock guitar legend who carried audiences on magical music adventures in the 1960s with his innovative electric guitar playing. The only thing sad about Jimi Hendrix, was his untimely demise in 1970 from allegedly drug-related complications. One thing is not up for debate: Jimi leaving his mark on the world of rock music and remains popular to this day.
The second boy is yours truly. It brings back a lot of pain to have to write these hidden-truths about my childhood and teenage years. I too, at one time, wanted desperately to play the guitar. You see, my dad was a fantastic musician, but as talented as he was, he had no patience with me. That is fine today. I have long since accepted this about my dad. And I take the responsibility for not being a quick-study.
My love for the guitar started right about the time that the Jimi Hendrix Experience released the album, “Are You Experienced,” and from that album on, it was a sizzling, seething love that I had for this American-based instrument, the guitar, that I was sure if I just learned to play this illusive music box, would make my self-esteem and lack of talents be forgotten by those around me who only laughed and said, “Awww, that Kenneth. He tries hard, but bless his heart, he just can’t find his place in life”
In 1973, I remember it well. I took my late aunt Ludene’s guitar that she had left to my dad at her death, and would sit on my front porch and strum the two chords that my dad had taken time to show me on the fingerboard. The chords are the most-common to beginning guitarists: “G” and “D” and I played them over and over until my mom would yell from inside the house, “Have you not had enough of that guitar stuff?” And with that, I would put the guitar away until the next evening when I returned home from work.
One Saturday I conned my dad into letting me visit a store in my hometown of Hamilton, Alabama, called, “Hamilton Music Center,” catchy name, huh? There I bought a few guitar instructional books by legendary guitarist, Mel Bay. Those books were just books to people who didn’t know Bay, but to me, these “how to,” books were sacred. Almost like the Bible in importance to me in my journey to learn the guitar.
On my front porch, every evening after work, I found out quickly that there are way more chords than “G” and “D,” in fact, there are as many as 1500 or more chords--with their various extensions and placements on the guitar fret board. It was a labor of disgust, not love, as the summer months drew out and then were gone. It was now fall and I had not learned any more now than I had back in the summer. Something was wrong.
My fingers were now callused from chording, in almost-perfect rhythms, “G,” “C,” “D,” “A,” “F,” and a chord by the name of “B7,” that I mixed into the chords that I had made into a melody. Man, I thought I was something. Soon, by listening to my record albums (kids, remember those?), I would try to copy the guitar riffs and runs, as pro guitarists say, and the more I practiced, the more I failed. And failed. I can say now with a clear conscience before God, my Maker, that I truly learned what the word ‘disappointment,’ really meant.
In 1974, I met my wife. She loved guitar music, but only in Gospel songs. That was cool. I could stumble through a few Gospel songs. And I did a few Gospel songs for her on our dates and later marriage. Yes, the guitar was an integral part of my life and our marriage. I loved to sit and strum and sometimes, actually “pick” out a simple tune that I had written in my fragmented imagination. It was awful. The songs I had written. No structure. No foundation. And me, no God-given talent. That is not a good mix, folks.
But my wife, bless her patient soul, she lingered on with me, encouraging me and trying her best to get me to see her point of “if you practice long enough, you will succeed,” which collided with my viewpoint, “If God doesn’t give you a gift for what you do, you are not going to succeed.” Case closed. And so was the lid to my guitar case. I laid the guitar down in 1989, and never picked it up again.
Honestly, I miss it sometimes. And when I hear certain songs on the radio or television that feature a guitar, my hands go into action, by old habits of one hand strumming and the other hand chording, and it is a funny thing to watch me mimic, or doing “air guitar,” when I am at home.
Between God, me and you, I wish with all of my heart, that God would look down on me one day or night, and be merciful enough to finally give me the gift of playing guitar. But you know as good as I do, that God does what He wants to do. And we do not dictate our plans to Him for each day that He sends. I guess, now that I face the cruel fact that I was never gifted to play guitar, that God, although He heard numerous pleas from me at night when everyone was sleeping, “Please, God, just allow me to play the guitar. I promise to not take it for granted,” was just one of my many petitions, never seen it fitting for me to hold a guitar and play like some of my wife’s family members. I described them as playing guitar like “taking a drink of water,” for they were that talented.
And you know what really hurts the most? Being in the company of people who ARE talented, and God-gifted on the guitar, and being forced to listen to endless pretty tunes that you can only long in your heart to play. And can’t. And one of these God-gifted guitarists, would eventually say, “Ken, you play the guitar, don’t you?” and with perfect-timing, my answer would be, “I used to. Not anymore,” and after they would insist that I would try to do a song, it wasn’t long before they knew that I was right. “I used to. Not anymore.”
But you know something. I have learned throughout the years, and even though it took the “teachers,” of disappointment and failure to teach me, I can live without playing the guitar. I used to think that playing the guitar was the most-important thing in the world for me. Obviously not.
Jimi Hendrix' birth name was Johnny Allen Hendrix, but later went by just Jimi Hendrix. As an a music-loving teen, Hendrix found that he loved the guitar. And as history records, he went on to the level of being a legend of rock guitar legends.
Hendrix thought of music as a peaceful hiding place. He loved the blues. And soon, Jimi got his first guitar and played with the a few unknown bands during 1959.
Jimi was destined to meet Chas Chandler, who became his manager. Chandler, who had formerly played with Eric Burdon and The Animals, advised Hendrix to go to London where he met with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
In 1967, the Jimi Hendrix Experience' first single, "Hey Joe," was a meteoric hit in Britain, followed by "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cried Mary." On many tours to promote the band's albums, Hendrix amazed fans with his unorthodox guitar-playing and his sophisticated sound. Winning over American music fans was easy with his eye-popping set at the Monterrey Pop Festival which that ended with Hendrix burning his guitar on stage.
Hendrix scored more hits and more fans with Axis: Bold as Love. His final musical offering as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was Electric Ladyland, that was released and featured Bob Dylan's song, "All Along the Watchtower." The band split up in 1969.
Hendrix died on September 18th, 1970, from alleged drug-related complications. While this talented guitar legend and recording genius was only 27 at the time of his passing, Hendrix left his mark on the world of rock music and remains popular to this day. And those marks will remain carved in the invisible wall of music legends forever.
Jimi, although I tried hard, very hard, to learn the guitar, as you know by now, I failed miserably. But this piece, I wanted to dedicate to you, and also to thank you for igniting my love for the guitar, and your music at a time in my young life when my faith was strong. And real enough to convince myself that I could really play guitar like you.
I will just be content with giving you this much-belated personal tribute and look forward to that day when all things we see and feel are gone, and we are all living in that celestial dimension where you are now, and I can sit down and finally ask you how you taught yourself the “music of the gods.”