James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (November 27, 1942 - September 18, 1970) was an American guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer who is widely considered to be the most important electric guitarist in the history of popular music. As a guitarist, he built upon the innovations of blues stylists such as B. B. King, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, and Muddy Waters, as well as those of R&B guitarists like Curtis Mayfield. In addition, he extended the tradition of rock guitar: although previous guitarists, such as the Kinks' Dave Davies, and the Who's Pete Townshend, had employed feedback, distortion and other special effects as sonic tools, Hendrix, due to his grounding in blues, soul music and R&B, was able to use these devices in a way that transcended their sources. He was also an accomplished songwriter whose compositions have been covered by countless artists. As a record producer and musical architect, he was one of the first to use the recording studio as an extension of his musical ideas. Finally, his image as a rock star places him in the lineage of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger.
Youth and pre-professional career
Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix, in Seattle, Washington the son of Al Hendrix and Lucille Jeter. He grew up shy and sensitive. Like his contemporaries John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Hendrix was deeply affected by family problems - his parents' divorce in 1951 and the death of his mother in 1958, when he was 16. He was close to his maternal grandmother, who was part-Cherokee, and who instilled in the young Jimi a strong sense of pride about his Native American ancestry. The same year, his father Al gave him a ukulele, and later bought him a US$5 acoustic guitar, setting him on the path to his future vocation.
After playing with several local Seattle bands, Hendrix enlisted in the Army, joining the 101st Airborne Division (stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, about 50 miles from Nashville, Tennessee) as a trainee paratrooper. He served less than a year and received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle on his 26th parachute jump. He said later that the sound of air whistling through the parachute shrouds was one of the sources of his "spacy" guitar sound.
Hendrix, who had volunteered for service in the Vietnam War, never saw action, but his recordings would become favourites of soldiers fighting there. He initially made a precarious living performing in backing bands for touring soul and blues musicians, including Curtis Knight, B B King, and Little Richard during 1965. His first notice came from appearances with The Isley Brothers, notably on the two-parter Testify in 1964.
On October 15, 1965, Hendrix signed a three-year recording contract with entrepreneur Ed Chalpin, receiving US$1 and 1% royalty on records with Curtis Knight. The contract was later to cause serious litigation problems with Hendrix and other record labels.
By 1966 he had his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and a residency at the Cafe Wha? in New York City. It was during this period that Hendrix met and worked with singer-guitarist Ellen McIlwaine and guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (later a member of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers) as well as the iconoclastic Frank Zappa, whose band The Mothers was playing a residency at the Garrick Theatre in Greenwich Village. It was Zappa who introduced Hendrix to the newly-invented wah-wah pedal, an effect pedal of which Hendrix soon became the acknowledged master and which he made an integral part of his sound.
It was while performing with The Blue Flames at the Cafe Wha? that Hendrix was discovered by Chas Chandler, bassist of the famous British rock group The Animals. Chandler brought him to England, signed Hendrix to a management and production contract as his record producer, and helped Hendrix form a new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
Within his first few show-stopping London club appearances, word of the new star spread like wildfire throughout the British music industry. His all-round showmanship and dazzling musicianship made instant fans of reigning guitar heroes Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, as well as members of The Beatles and The Who, whose managers immediately signed Hendrix to The Who's record label, Track Records. This promise was borne out in their first single, a cover of Hey Joe, a stylised blues song that was virtually a standard for rock bands at the time.
Further success came with the follow-up, the incendiary and original Purple Haze, whose heavily distorted guitar sound would be highly influential for the next 20 years, and the soulful ballad "The Wind Cries Mary". These three songs were all Top 10 hits. Now firmly established as a major star in the UK, Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham moved into a house in central London that had once been the home of the Baroque composer Georg Friedrich Handel.
1967 saw the release of the group's first album, Are You Experienced?, whose mix of melodic ballads (Remember), pop-rock (Fire), psychedelia (Third Stone from the Sun), and traditional blues (Red House) would prove the template for much of their later work. Hendrix was taken to hospital suffering burns to his hands after setting his guitar on fire for the first time at the Astoria Theatre in London on March 31, 1967. He was later warned by Rank Theatre management to "tone down" his stage act after causing damage to amplifiers and other stage equipment at his shows.
At the strong urging of festival board member Paul McCartney, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was booked for the Monterey Pop Festival, and the concert, featuring Hendrix's iconic burning and smashing of his guitar, was immortalized by filmmaker D A Pennebaker in his film Monterey Pop. The Monterey festival was a triumphant homecoming. It was followed by an abortive support slot opening for the pop group The Monkees on their first American tour.
The Monkees had asked for Hendrix simply because they were fans, but unfortunately their mostly teenage audience didn't warm to his outlandish stage act and he abruptly quit the tour after few dates, just as Purple Haze was beginning to chart in America. Chas Chandler later admitted that being "thrown off" The Monkees tour was designed to gain maximum media impact and outrage for Hendrix. At the time, a story circulated claiming that Hendrix had been removed from the tour because of complaints made by conservative women's organization the Daughters of the American Revolution that his stage conduct was "lewd and indecent". In fact, the story was false: it had been concocted by Australian journalist Lillian Roxon, who was accompanying the tour with her friend, singer Lynne Randell, the other support act. The claim was facetiously repeated in Roxon's famous 1969 Rock Encyclopedia but she later admitted it had been fabricated.
Meanwhile, back in England, Hendrix's wild-man image and musical gimmickry (such as playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his back) continued to garner him publicity, although he was to become more and more frustrated by media and audience concentration on his stage act and his early hits, and his increasing difficulty in getting his newer music accepted.
1967 also saw the release of his second album. Axis: Bold as Love continued the style established by Are You Experienced, with tracks such as Little Wing and If 6 Was 9 showing his continuing mastery of his instrument. A mishap almost prevented the album's release, however - Hendrix lost the master tape of side one of the LP after he accidentally left it in a taxi. With the release deadline looming, Hendrix, Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer were forced to make a hurried remix from the multitracks, which they completed in a marathon all-night session. This was the version released in December 1967, although Kramer and Hendrix later said that they were never entirely happy with the results.
By this time, increasing personality differences with Noel Redding combined with the influence of drugs, alcohol and fatigue, leading to a trouble-plagued tour of Scandinavia. On January 4, 1968, Hendrix was jailed by Stockholm police, after completely trashing a hotel room in a drunken rage.
The band's third recording, the double album Electric Ladyland 1968, was more eclectic and experimental, featuring a lengthy blues jam (Voodoo Chile), the jazz inflected "Rainy Day, Dream Away"/"Still Raining, Still Dreaming", and what is probably the definitive version of Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower. (Hendrix credited British band the Alan Bown Set for inspiration on the arrangement.)
The recording of the album was extremely problematic. Hendrix had by now decided to return to America and, frustrated by the limitations of commercial recording, he decided to establish his own state-of-the-art multitrack studio in New York, to which he could have unlimited access to realise his expanding musical visions. Construction of the studio, called Electric Lady, was beset with problems and it was not finally completed until mid 1970.
Hendrix's formerly disciplined work habits were also becoming erratic, and the combination of interminable sessions and studios filled with hangers-on finally led Chas Chandler to quit on December 1, 1968. Chandler later complained that Hendrix's insistence on doing multiple takes on every song (Gypsy Eyes apparently took 43 takes and he still wasn't satisfied with the result), combined with what he saw as incoherence caused by drugs, led to him to sell his share of the management company to his partner Mike Jeffrey. Hendrix's studio perfectionism was legendary - he reportedly made guitarist Dave Mason do more than 20 takes of the acoustic guitar backing on All Along The Watchtower - yet he was always insecure about his voice and often recorded his vocals hidden behind studio screens.
Many critics now believe that the ascendancy of Mike Jeffrey was a decidedly negative influence on Hendrix's life and career. It has been alleged that Jeffrey (who had previously managed The Animals and has been much reviled by them) embezzled much of the money Hendrix earned during his lifetime and secreted it in offshore bank accounts. It is also believed that Jeffrey had close links to US intelligence organisations (he claimed publicly to be a secret agent) and to the Mafia.
Despite the difficulties of its recording, many of the album tracks show Hendrix's vision expanding far beyond the scope of the original trio (it is said that the sound of this record would help inspire Miles Davis' sound on Bitches Brew) and saw him collaborating with a range of outside musicians including Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Steve Winwood from Traffic (band), drummer Buddy Miles and the former Dylan organist Al Kooper.
His expanding musical horizons were accompanied by a deterioration in his relationship with his bandmates (particularly Redding), and the Experience broke up during 1969. His relations with the public also came to a head when on January 4, 1969 he was accused by television producers of being arrogant after playing an impromptu version of Sunshine of your Love past his allotted timeslot on the BBC1 show Happening for Lulu.
On May 3 he was arrested at Toronto International Airport after heroin was found in his luggage. He was later bailed on a US$10,000 surety; when the matter came to trial Hendrix was acquitted, successfully claiming that the drugs had been slipped into his bag by a fan without his knowledge. On June 29, Noel Redding formally announced to the media that he had quit the Jimi Hendrix Experience, although he had effectively ceased working with Hendrix during most of the recording of Electric Ladyland.
By August of 1969, however, Hendrix had formed a new band, called Gypsy Suns and Rainbows, to play the Woodstock festival. It featured Hendrix on guitar, Billy Cox on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, Larry Lee on rhythm guitar and Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan on drums and percussion. The set, while notably under-rehearsed and ragged in performance (Hendrix was reputedly 'spiked' with a powerful dose of LSD just before going onstage) and played out to a slowly emptying field of revelers, featured an extraordinary instrumental version of The Star-Spangled Banner, distorted almost beyond recognition and accompanied by simulated sounds of war - machine guns, bombs and screams - all produced by Hendrix on his guitar. (The creation of these effects was groundbreaking in its own right, far expanding the traditional techniques of the electric guitar). The rendition has been described by some as a generation's statement on the unrest in US society, and others as an anti-American mockery, oddly symbolic of the beauty, spontaneity, and tragedy that was endemic to Hendrix's life. It was an unforgettable rendition remembered by generations. When asked on the Dick Cavett Show if he was aware of all the outrage he had caused by the performance, Hendrix replied: "I thought it was beautiful."
The Gypsy Suns and Rainbows were short-lived, and Hendrix formed a new trio, the Band of Gypsys (sic), comprising Billy Cox, an old army buddy, on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, for four memorable concerts on New Year's Eve 1969-70. Happily, the concerts were recorded, capturing several superb pieces, including what many feel to be one of Hendrix's greatest live performances, an explosive 12-minute rendition of his anti-war epic 'Machine Gun'.
His association with Miles, however, was not to last and ended abruptly during a concert at Madison Square Gardens on January 28, 1970, when Hendrix walked out after playing just two songs, telling the audience: "I'm sorry we just can't get it together". Miles later said in a television interview that Hendrix felt he was losing the spotlight to other musicians. The rest of that year was spent recording whenever he could find time, often with Mitch Mitchell, and attempting to carry out the shambolic Rainbow Bridge project, an over-ambitious combination of film/album/concert set in Hawaii. On July 26, Hendrix played at his home town of Seattle at Sick's Stadium.
In August he gave his final live performance in the United Kingdom at the Isle of Wight Festival with Mitchell and Cox, expressing disappointment on-stage at his fans' clamour to hear his old hits rather than his new ideas. On September 6, during his final European tour, Hendrix was greeted by booing and jeering by fans while performing at the Fehmarn Festival in Germany in a riot-like atmosphere. Bassist Billy Cox quit the tour and headed back to the United States after reportedly being dosed with PCP (phencyclidine).
Hendrix remained in England, and on September 18th, he was found senseless in bed in the hotel room of a German girlfriend Monika Dannemann after taking a reported nine vesperax sleeping pills and choking on his own vomit. He died later in a hospital. His body was returned home and he was interred in the Greenwood Memorial Park, Renton, Washington, USA.
Part of Hendrix's unique style was due to the fact that he was left-handed and that he played a right-handed guitar upside down, re-strung for left-handed playing. Although he owned and used a variety of guitars during his career (including a Gibson Flying V that he decorated with psychedelic designs) his guitar of choice, and the instrument that will always be associated with him, was the Fender Stratocaster, or "Strat". He bought his first Strat around 1965 and used them almost constantly for the rest of his life.
A feature of the Strat that Hendrix exploited to the full was the patented Fender tremolo arm, which enabled him to bend notes and entire chords without the guitar going out of tune. The easy action and relatively narrow neck of the Strat were also ideally suited to Hendrix's evolving style and greatly enhanced his tremendous dexterity - as can be seen from films and photos, Jimi's hands were so large that he was able to fret across all six strings with the top joint of his thumb alone, and he could reputedly play lead and rhythm parts simultaneously.
Stratocasters had first been popularised by Buddy Holly and British band The Shadows, but they were almost impossible to obtain in the UK until the mid-Sixties due to post-war import restrictions. Hendrix's emergence coincided with the lifting of these restrictions and he arguably did more than any other player to make the Stratocaster the biggest-selling electric guitar in history; before his arrival in the UK most top players had been using Gibsons and Rickenbackers, but after Hendrix, almost all of the leading guitarists, including Beck and Clapton, switched to the Stratocaster. Hendrix bought dozens of Strats during his lifetime; he gave many away (including one given to ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons) but many others were stolen and he destroyed several of them in his famous guitar-burning finales.
The burnt and broken parts of the Stratocaster he destroyed at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival were given to Frank Zappa, who later rebuilt it and played it extensively during the Seventies and Eighties. After Zappa's death, the guitar was put up for sale by Zappa's son Dweezil. In May 2002, Dweezil put the guitar up for auction in the US, hoping it would fetch US$1 million dollars, but it failed to sell. It was put up for auction again in September of the same year in London. Dweezil lowered the asking price to �450,000 (765,000 Euros), but once again the guitar failed to sell. The highest offer was a telephone bid of �300,000 (510,000 Euros) was refused. The legendary white 1968 Strat that Hendrix played at Woodstock sold at Sotheby's auction house in London in 1990 for �174,000 (295,800 Euros). The guitar was resold in 1993 for �750,000 (1,275,000 Euros). Both it and a shard of the burnt and broken guitar now reside in a permanent exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. The museum's founder, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, is a fan of Hendrix's - the museum was originally concieved to be dedicated just to him.
Hendrix was also a prime mover in the development of modern guitar amplification and guitar effects. His high-energy stage act and the blistering volume at which he played required robust and powerful amplifiers. For the first few months of his touring career he used Vox and Fender amplifiers, but he quickly found that they could not stand up to the rigours of an Experience show. He then discovered the new range of high-powered guitar amps being made by London audio engineer Jim Marshall and they proved perfect for Jimi's needs. As with the Strat, Hendrix was central in promoting the popularity of the Marshall stack and Marshall amplifiers were crucial in shaping his heavily overdriven sound, enabling him to master the creative use of feedback as a musical effect.
Hendrix was also constantly looking for new guitar effects. He was one of the first guitarists to move past the gimmickry and exploit the full expressive possibilities of the wah-wah pedal. He also had a fruitful association with engineer Roger Mayer and made extensive use of several Mayer devices including the Axis fuzz unit, the Octavia octave doubler and the UniVibe, a vibrato unit designed to electronically simulate the modulation effects of the Leslie speaker. Hendrix's sound was a unique blend of high volume and high power, precise control of feedback and a range of cutting-edge guitar effects, especially the UniVibe-Octavia combination, which can be heard to full effect on the Band of Gypsys' live version of Machine Gun.
Despite his hectic touring schedule and his notorious perfectionism, he was also a prolific recording artist and he left behind more than 300 unreleased recordings besides his five official LPs and various singles. He became legendary as one of the great 1960s rock'n'roll musicians who, like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones, rose to stardom, flourished for just a few years and died young.
After Hendrix's death, hundreds of his unreleased recordings began to emerge. Producer Alan Douglas caused controversy when he supervised the mixing, overdubbing, and release of two albums' worth of material that Hendrix had left behind in various states of completion. These include the LPs Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning and although they contains several important tracks, these albums are now generally considered to be substandard in quality; it is almost certain that Jimi would not have approved them for release had he lived.
In 1972 British producer Joe Boyd put together a superb film documentary on Hendrix's life, which played in art-house cinemas around the world for many years. The double-album soundtrack to the film, which included live performances from Monterey, Berkeley and the Isle of Wight, is probably the best of the posthumous releases.
Another worthwhile LP to emerge in the Seventies was the live compilation Hendrix In The West, which consisted of top-shelf American live recordings from the last two years of his life, including a brilliant rendition of the concert favourite Red House.
Although the film itself is generally regarded as a being of only minor interest, Rainbow Bridge - it was billed as a soundtrack to a film of the same name, but wasn't - proved a worthwhile item. It includes several superb tracks that had been intended for Hendrix's projected fourth studio album, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, the never-completed follow-up to Electric Ladyland. These excellent studio tracks, including Dolly Dagger, Earth Blues, Room Full of Mirrors and the melancholy instrumental Pali Gap, showed Hendrix advancing his studio technique to new levels, as well as absorbing influences from contemporary black soul and funk acts such as James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone.
The Rainbow Bridge album is highlighted by the full-length live version of another of Hendrix's best concert performances, a tour-de-force 10-minute electric version of the blues standard Hear My Train A-Comin. He had originally recorded this song in 1967 for promotional film, performing it impromptu as an short but engaging Delta-style acoustic blues played on a borrowed 12-string guitar. The 1970 electric version (which stands alongside Machine Gun as one of his greatest live recordings) saw the song transformed almost beyond recognition; like Machine Gun it showcased virtually all the classic elements of the Hendrix electric sound and featured some of his most inspired improvisation. The track was taped live at a concert at the Berkeley Community Center in California; an edited filmed segment of this performance was also included in the concert film Jimi Plays Berkeley.
Interest in Hendrix waned somewhat during the 1980s, but with the advent of the compact disc Polygram and Warner-Reprise began reissuing many Hendrix recordings on CD in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The earliest Polygram reissues were of a poor standard and Electric Ladyland suffered particularly, being evidently a direct transfer from the existing LP masters, with the tracks placed out of their correct order. This reflected the original LP running order, an artifact of the days when double-LPs were pressed with sides one and three on one LP and sides two and four on the other, so that the records could be placed on an automatic changer and played through in sequence by turning them over only once.
Polygram subsequently released a superior-quality double boxed set of eight CDs with studio tracks in one 4CD box and the live tracks in the other. This was followed by an excellent 4CD set of live concerts on Reprise. An audio documentary, originally made for radio and later released on 4CDs, also appeared around this time, and it included much previously unreleased material.
In the late 1990s, after Hendrix's father Al regained control of his son's estate, he and daughter Janie established the Experience Hendrix company to curate and promote Jimi's extensive recorded legacy. Working in collaboration with Jimi's original engineer, Eddie Kramer, the company embarked on an extensive reissue program, including fully remastered editions of the studio albums and compilation CDs of remixed and remastered tracks intended for the First Rays of the New Rising Sun album. To date, the Experience Hendrix company has made more than US$44 million from the recordings and associated merchandising.
Estate, legal wranglings
In the absence of a will, Jimi's father Al Hendrix inherited Jimi's recordings and royalty rights, and entrusted this estate to an attorney, who allegedly tricked Al into selling these rights to shell companies owned by the attorney. Al sued in 1993 for mismanaging these assets. The litigation was funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a lifelong and devoted Hendrix fan. In a 1995 settlement, Al Hendrix finally regained control over all his son's recordings. Several albums were then re-mastered from the original tapes and re-released. Al Hendrix died in 2002 at age 82. Control of the estate and the Experience Hendrix company that was set up to administer the Hendrix legacy then passed to Jimi's half-sister Janie.
In 2004, Janie Hendrix was sued by her half-brother, Leon Hendrix, Jimi's younger brother, who was written out of his father's will in 1997. He was seeking to have his inheritance restored and Janie removed from her position of control over the Hendrix estate. Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell sided with Janie explaining "Janie was the family member Al trusted the most." He added that Leon's battles with drug addiction, his failure to complete a treatment programme, his unwillingness to work and his continual demands for money were the main reasons that Al Hendrix cut his younger son from his will.
- Official Jimi Hendrix website
- Early Hendrix - pre 1967 recordings
- All Things Strat - Ten Strats To Die For
- 'Reloading Machine Gun' - Jimi Hendrix
- Online set lists and discography
- Extensive set lists for all live and studio recordings
- Jimi Hendrix French Website
- Jimi Hendrix Biography
- Jimi Hendrix quotes
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