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The Life of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, as he exists today, is a cultural icon among few greats.

His deft musicianship, experimental music and riveting performances drove fans wild during his brief career. Had his life not been cut short, much more astounding music would likely have been made by the far-out performer.

Although he is cherished in memory by many today, his life and career took a number of interesting and devastating turns before he reached age 30 - leaving the world with a legendarily tragic life story and the music he made throughout it.


Jimi's Troubled Childhood

Jimi Hendrix was born to another name; Johnny Allen Hendrix. Four years after his birth, in 1946, his parents elected to change his name to James Marshall Hendrix - like his father and late brother.

Hendrix's childhood was, unfortunately, that of a child to impoverished parents. His father struggled to support his family after an honorable discharge from the military. The two went on to have 3 additional children, but they were all given up to foster care.

Jimi's childhood experiences would later be disclosed in private to one of his girlfriends, whom he told of the sexual abuse he suffered from a man in uniform. This difficult period of his life likely shaped his later outlook and interests dramatically.


Jimi's Introduction to Music

In the 50's, a young Hendrix caught the attention of a social worker while attending elementary school in Seattle. He had a habit of carrying a broom with him and using it to emulate a guitar. Despite the social worker's efforts to sway them, the school directors were not convinced to buy the child a guitar, and so Jimi went without for some time.

In 1957, Jimi obtained his first instrument. He'd had a stroke of luck while assisting his father with an odd job and came across an old ukulele which he was allowed to keep. The thing had only one string left to play, but Jimi's fascination with it was limitless.

He followed along to his favorite songs by Elvis and others - picking up the tunes by ear and plucking at his one-stringed uke with zeal.

Just a year later, he'd obtain his first guitar and begin developing his playing. Unfortunately, that same year, he'd lose his mother to cirrhosis.


Growing Guitar God

Jimi set about developing his guitar skills in the midst of the tremendous loss of his mother. He played his $5 acoustic guitar in his first band, "the Velvetones" until it became apparent that he'd need a louder instrument to be heard over the group. Around this time, in 1959, he also met Billy Davis, whom he was friends with from then on.

Halfway through 1959, his father bought him his first electric guitar, and Jimi was off and running in the local music scene.

His first big gig was at Seattle's Jewish Temple De Hirsch Sinai, where he managed to get himself fired in between sets for excessive showboating. His next success came when he joined the "Rocking Kings" and began playing regularly with them in local venues. Unfortunately, hardship would soon find him once more - leading him shockingly far away from his burgeoning career in music and into unsettling terrain.


Jimi Joins the Army

A less-than-19-year-old Hendrix, presented with an ultimatum by authorities after being caught in stolen cars on multiple occasions, would choose a stint in the U.S. military over prison time.

Thus it went, Jimi enlisted in the army May 31, 1961. Eight weeks of basic training later, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He wasn't enthusiastic about his stay in the military though - writing home disparaging remarks about the experience to his father.

It proved a difficult time for him overall. He managed to have his guitar shipped out to his base, which helped him cope somewhat. Still, he couldn't quite cut it in the army - according to his superiors who soon found a way to discharge him. An injury sustained on a jump gave Hendrix an out, but his discharge was on the grounds of unsuitability.


Back on the Music Scene

Jimi was doubtless delighted to have left the military, but the time he'd spent there hadn't been entirely a loss. During his stay, he'd met and jammed with fellow recruit Billy Cox, who'd played bass. When Cox left the military in 1963, they both moved to Tennessee to start a band called the "King Kasuals."

It was during this time that Jimi first learned to play guitar with his teeth, so as not to be upstaged by the other guitarist in their band who also knew the trick. The band rose in relative notoriety - playing as a resident band at Club del Morocco, a popular venue in the area at the time, among others.

Hendrix also found time to play as backing musician for a number of prominent acts at the time. These included the likes of Ike & Tina Turner as well as Sam Cooke.


Jimi Makes the Move

Hendrix eventually chose to leave Tennessee in search of a more fulfilling solo career. He settled in Harlem, New York and played local venues - winning the Apollo Theater's amateur contest at one point. However, it was a chance audition with none other than the Isley Brothers that got him his biggest break yet. He applied and landed the position as guitarist of their backing band.

He left the band in 1964, tired of the monotony, but not before recording their two-part single, "Testify."

He joined Little Richard's backing band and recorded "I Don't Know What You Got (But It's Got Me)" with him in 1965. While in Hollywood, Jimi ended up recording two tracks with singer Rosa Lee Brooks; "My Diary" and "Utee." That same year, he made his first televised appearance playing on Nashville's "Channel 5 Night Train." In the same month, he was booted from Little Richard's band for butting heads over showboating, among other things.

Hendrix returned to the Isley Brothers' band for a short while and recorded with them once more before moving on to an R&B band by the name of "Curtis Knight and the Squires." He recorded with this band as well as King Curtis at the time.

Come 1966, Jimi was ready for more changes and decided to form a band of his own.


Rise to Stardom

Hendrix created his own band, "Jimmy James and the Blue Flames," in Greenwich Village, NY.

The band landed a few residencies at local clubs and saw minor success. However, it was a chance introduction to former "Animals" member Chas Chandler who'd taken an interest in managing artists, that catapulted Jimi to true stardom. Chas took Jimi to London and helped him build his soon-to-be-famous band, "the Jimi Hendrix Experience."

Partnered with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, Jimi would soon see a level of success that had, up to that point, eluded him.

The band's first show was played as Johnny Hallyday's supporting act in France at the Novelty in Evreux. Later that year, the band would be signed to Track Records. "Hey Joe" and "Stone Free" were recorded that same year, the former of which peaked at 6 on the UK charts. 1967 saw songs like "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cries Mary" recorded to great success.

That same year, Hendrix would give one of his most memorable performances, in which he set his guitar on fire, at the London Astoria. He'd do the same once more at the Monterey Pop Festival.

'67 also saw the release of Jimi's band's first full-length album, "Are You Experienced?" which featured an eclectic mix of influences and peaked at number 2 on the charts. Another album followed shortly thereafter; "Axis: Bold as Love" to little fanfare. Then another, "Electric Ladyland", in 1968, which went on to be considered Hendrix's greatest album. The album included his only US top 40 song, a cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower."


The End of the Experience

1969 marked the end of the original Experience lineup as Hendrix's and Redding's mounting frustration formed a rift between them. With his old friend Cox on bass, Jimi played the Woodstock Music and Art Fair that year as the main event. The crowd had reached an incredible size of roughly 400,000 people to catch his performance. He played his iconic rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" during this performance, which featured on a later documentary of the fair.

In 1970, Hendrix released his LP "Band of Gypsys" to appease his former manager Ed Chalpin, with whom he'd run into legal trouble over their old contract. The LP featured live material by his new band and was released by Capitol Records.


Jimi's Final Tour

The "Cry of Love" tour in 1970 was the guitarist's final tour, the American leg of which ended in Honolulu. During this tour, he played for the largest crowd of his career at the Atlanta International Pop Festival, on July 4. Some 500,000 people were in attendance.

Unfortunately, during the European leg of the tour, Hendrix played his final show - an impromptu jam session with "War" - before passing away 48 hours later.

The details surrounding Hendrix's death are hazy and inconclusive. The official cause was cited as asphyxiation while intoxicated. His untimely death lent an air of martyrdom to his status as a rock and roll icon that has since transformed him into an immortal musical icon.


Jimi Hendrix, the rock legend and troubled musician will forever be remembered for his contributions to music history.

Few artists have achieved as much in as little time as he did in his short career. Wherever rock and roll may go, his influence will likely follow.


Quotes from Jimi Hendrix:

“I'm the one that's got to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.”
? Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix - Axis: Bold as Love

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”
? Jimi Hendrix

“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye...until we meet again”
? Jimi Hendrix