Jimi Hendrix was an American guitarist and songwriter, widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential musicians in history. He was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington and was the oldest of five siblings. During the years 1967 to 1970, when he died, he reformed the way of playing the guitar and also had a huge impact on other guitarists at that time. He was one of the frontmen in the flower-power movement and also made spectacular shows, the best known being the one the one in which he set his guitar on fire. (A lot of articles and books have been written on Jimi's life, and the purpose of this article is to focus on the most essential things, rather than write a new biography, which would have taken years to complete.)
Jimi Hendrix was given the name Johnny Allen Hendrix by his mother, which his father later changed to James Marshall Hendrix to honour his dead brother. Jimi's childhood was unstable, since his mother was an alcoholic, and he grew up partly with his grandmother in Canada. She was very close to Jimi and tought him to be proud of his Afro-American ancestry. He had two younger brothers (Leon & Joseph) and two sisters, but his mother left the family when Jimi was about eight years old, and he grew up being a shy and quiet boy. He was attending something so unusal - at that time - as a ethnically mixed school, and he had good grades except for an F in music 1959(!). He was deeply into blues and R&B music and listened a lot to B.B. King and Muddy Waters, whose records his father owned.
He didn't receive his first guitar until he was 15 as a birthday present from his father, although he was given a toy guitar some years back. The guitar replaced the broomstick he was dancing around with imitating Chuck Berry and the other R&B artists at that time. He was also doing the "duckwalk", which he later did on occasion in his career. From then on he practiced almost constantly, and learned from local musicians, the radio and his fathers records. His mother died of cirrhosis 1958, which had less impact on Jimi since he didn't have much contact with her after the divorce in 1951. He was also a big fan of Elvis Presley, as all kids at that time, and made a painting of Elvis and his guitar after attended an Elvis show in 1957.
Jimi's youth and the army
In 1959 he got his first electric, which was a white Supro Ozark 1560 S (bought at Myers Music shop in Seattle), from his father. Although his father wasn't supporting Jimi's dream of a career in music (since he thought the guitar was frivolous), he was advised by a school counselor to get Jimi a guitar due to Jimi's spur of depression of not getting a guitar. Jimi attended a band and had his first gig in the basement of a synagogue, before he got fired between the sets beeing too wild/showing off. Jimi later joined a band named "The Velvetones", who played for free at a local establishment. He later joined "Rocking Kings", who was a semi-professional band and he was an attraction already back then playing left-handed with aggresive approach. He was also in a band called "The Tomcats", playing whatever that was popular. After his guitar got stolen after a gig, his father bought him a white Danelectro Silvertone, which he painted red and wrote "Betty Jean" on - his girlfriend at that time.
Jimi's grades were falling in High School, even though he had no problems in Junior High, and he never graduated. He was telling the story about the teachers beeing racial, but the truth was simply that he hadn't the motivation and had bigger interest in playing guitar than attending school. Probably, he also was in bad company, since he was arrested twice for car theft. He was given a choice by the judge of beeing prisoned or attending the army for two years, where he accepted the latter. He joined the army in mid 1961, and were after the boot camp stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
His superiors in the army described him as lazy, he slept while on duty and was not understanding even the simpliest tasks. It was said: "his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties because he is thinking about his guitar". Jimi was discharged from the army after only a year by his superiors, even though he said that it was because of a foot injury when he was parachuting. In the army he also met Billy Cox, who became a friend and later also a member of "Band of Gypsy's".
Jimi's early career
After Jimi left the army, he and Billy Cox moved to Clarksville, Tennessee where they started to play with "The King Casuals", a band they loosely formed during their time in the army. They eventually moved to Nashville, and had regular gigs on Jefferson Street, where the centre of the R & B scene were for the black musicians. Jimi later made a living from doing gigs for "Chitlin' Circuit" (a ring of venues in the south where Afro-American musicians could play safely) with different bands backing up artists like Chuck Jackson, Slim Harpo, Tommy Tucker, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. This was a very important period in Jimi's career, since he actually got his blues roots from backing these artists.
In 1964 he got tired of playing in the south and moved to N.Y where he won an amateur contest, which led to that he was hired by the Isley Brothers. By this time he also did his first studio session, which was "Testify" with Isley Brothers. (this song was also covered by SRV 20 years later) He left the Isley Brothers to join George Odell on a tour that had Sam Cooke as a headline. In Atlanta he was hired by Little Richard (calling himself Maurice James) and made a recording in L.A. on Little Richards single "I Don't Know What You've Got, But It's Got Me". He left the band after a incident when he missed the bus, and rejoined the Isley Brothers and recorded a single containing the songs "Move Over and Let Me Dance" and "Have You Ever Been Disappointed".
In 1964/65 he met Curtis Knight, who was living in the same hotel as Jimi in N.Y. He joined his band "Curtis Knight and the Squires", and went recording with them. At the same time Ed Chalpin wrote a record deal with Jimi that were suppose to last for three years and gave Jimi $1 and 1% royalty. This led to one of the largest legal disputes between record companys, and is at present time still not settled. (when Jimi became a star, Chalpins company widely sold the demo tapes with Curtis Knight as records in Jimi's name)
While playing with Curtis Knight, Jimi also was touring with King Curtis and Joey Dee and the Starliters, since he couldn't make a living out of the income from Curtis Knight band. He was also appearing as a session musician on recordings with Ray Sharpe and the King Curtis Orchestra, Lonnie Youngblood,The Icemen's and Jimmy Norman. By this time was also Jimi's first "unofficial" child conceived with a runaway/teenage prostitute, but the girl was never approved as Jimi's daughter by court of law.
Jimi formed his first own band in 1966, named "Jimmy James and the Blue Flames", which put himself in front rather than a backup guitar player. The band did local venues in Greenwich Village, and also worked as backup-band for other artists. By this time he also met Frank Zappa, who is said to have introduced the Wah-wah pedal to Jimi. At one of the gigs , Chas Chandler (who left the Animals at that time) showed up, by recommendation of Keith Richard's girlfriend (Linda Keith) who couldn't believe that he never had been "discovered". Chandler was looking for an artist to manage, and he brought Jimi with him to the U.K.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Chandler signed a contract with Jimi, establishing him as Jimi's producer and manager and got him together with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding (who actually was a guitar player from the start). They started to play local venues in London, and Jimi's fame grew fast. Legendary guitar players like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and even the Beatles had committed to watch his performances, and were highly impressed. Eric Clapton, who remained a friend of Hendrix until his death, has stated in several interviews that Hendrix impact on the music scene at this time was unbelievable. On Chandler's request Jimi also did some performances on Cream's concerts.
The first single that Jimi recorded was for the company "Track Records" (which also was the Who's record company) and was a cover of Tim Rose's version of "Hey Joe" that Jimi and Chandler heard. The following singles "Stone Free" and "Purple Haze" were together with "Hey Joe" in Top 10 of the British charts. The songs were also selling good in Japan, Australia and Europe, but never made any success in the U.S at this point in time.
Are You Experienced?
The first full-length album "Are You Experienced?" was recorded mainly at Olympic Studios in London with Eddie Kramer as engineer and Chandler as producer. The album was released in Europe at Polydor (since Track Records was'nt operational yet) in May 1967, and the songs were recorded during the spring the same year. Worth to mention is that the U.S release left three songs out ("Red House", "Remember" and "Can You See Me") to make room for the singles instead. There was also another cover on the U.S release.
The album quickly reached #2 in the British charts, only owershadowed by the Beatles "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" that was released about the same time. As an attempt to get publicity, Jimi burned his guitar in one show, which caused big headlines, and served the purpose well. Jimi later did this a couple more times on his concerts.
Jimi was touring in the U.K and all over in Europe. In Stockholm he met Hanson & Karlsson, whom he was a big fan to. He used to start his concerts with their song "Tax-free". He also met a Swedish girl, Eva Sundquist and conceived a child that later was recognized as his by Swedish law. (James Daniel Sundquist)
Back in the U.S.A
Although Jimi had a success in Europe his singles never made it in the U.S charts. His chance in the U.S. came when Paul McCartney recommended him to the staff of Monterey Pop Festival. (P.M was actually a member of the board) The event was filmed in order to make a documentary, and several bootlegs, recordings etc. were made of this concert. (known as "Jimi at Monterey") In this performance he also did the smashing/burning of the guitar, which can be seen in classic pictures/movie clips.
After the Monterey concert, Jimi headed back to N.Y and did mostly club gigs and appeared at Fillmore East (a legendary rock club), from where also recordings were made that eventually were bootlegged. In another PR-attempt Hendrix joined the Monkees U.S tour as an opening act, and found himself thrown-out after just a couple of gigs. (which was the purpose according to Chandler) The Monkees early teen audience was rather frightened than digging what Hendrix was doing.
Under pressure from the record company
Jimi's contract with Track Records stated that he should do at least two records/year, and in late 1967 he went into the studio with his band, Chandler and Eddie Kramer in London. The album "Axis: Bold as Love" was mainly a studio product where Hendrix played with stereo techniques, psychodelic sounds and experimenting in the studio. The band rarely played any songs from the album live, except for "Little Wing" and "Spanish Castle Magic". An accident were near to spoil the whole release, since Jimi left one of the mastertapes (for side A of the album) in a cab, and they disappeared. This tape has never been found. Noel redding had a copy that was re-mixed, but both Jimi and Chandler said afterwards that they weren't happy with the result.
The album went #3 in the U.K and #5 in the U.S and Hendrix went to Sweden on a short tour in January 1968. After smashing a hotel room in Stockholm, Hendrix was arrested and was sentenced to a large fine. Hendrix explanation was "one of my drinks got spiked" (e.g someone put LSD inside), and after the incident the band continued to tour in Europe.
In spring 1968 Chandler has got tired of Jimi and the band, probably of their extensive use of drugs and all the struggle. He also got tired of Jimi's strive for the "perfect take", on "Gypsy Eyes" he did 43 takes and wasn't still satisfied. He sold his share in the management to his partner Mike Jeffrey, and when Jimi recorded the next album ("Electric Ladyland"), he had no impact of the recordings, even though he was there at the beginning. Chandler's existance on the previous recordings is highly noticeable, since the songs where short and had a kind of "pop" -style. When Jimi started with "Electric Ladyland", he had no supervisor and could do as he wanted to.
He started to experiment with different musicians (Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Steve Winwood from Traffic, drummer Buddy Miles, Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, and Al Kooper.), effects, recording techniques while having his friends in the studio, making the recording's as a long big party. Though the embryos of the album were recorded in London at Olympic, most of them were recorded in Studio A at legendary Record Plant in N.Y, since Jimi moved back to the U.S at this point in time.
The record became the only #1 album (in the U.S, in the U.K it was #6) Jimi had in the charts and is voted amongst the 500 best guitar albums ever made. It is considered as the peak of Jimi's career by many critics and enthusiast and is truly outstanding of its time.
Mike Jeffrey's appearance instead of Chandler, was not a lucky move for Jimi, since Jeffrey was a suspect character that had been reported hiding most of the incomes of Jimi's music in offshore accounts. He had also contacts with CIA and MI5, and was probably a secret agent, since he spoke russian and always carried a handgun. Conspiracy theories about Jimi's death claimed that CIA was deeply involved. (see Jimi's Death below)
The breakup of Experience
Noel Redding was very unsatisfied with his role on "Electric Ladyland", where Jimi himself actually played the bass for some tunes. Also, he wanted to go for an own career since he was a guitar player from the beginning. Jimi called his army buddy Billy Cox and he was rehearsing with Jimi and Mitchell from about April, 1969. Hendrix, who wanted to experiment with a bigger setting in the band officially stated: "This is the last gig we'll be playing together" in Denver Pop Festival in June, 1969.
Jimi has been arrested in Toronto in May for carrying heroin in his bag, which he said was put there by one of his fans. This may actually be true, since no one ever saw Jimi use heroin or found any needle marks on the autopsy after his dead. Noel Redding also said in interviews: "We never had to find any drugs by ourselves, since the fans always brought it to us backstage or at parties".
Woodstock and the Band of Gypsys
Jimi's manager Mike Jeffrey had in the beginning of the summer of 69', hired a house near Woodstock in upstate N.Y, where Jimi could rest and rehearse in between his performances. Probably he was hoping that Jimi would end up in writing some new material for an album.
Jimi formed a new band consisting of Billy Cox, Mitchell and Larry Lee (on guitar) as well as two percussionist. (Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez) Jimi was signed to appear on the Woodstock Festival in August, where the band's first appearance were made. Bad weather delayed Jimi's performance, and when the band entered the stage at monday morning, over 12 hours delayed, there were just about 180.000 of the original 500.000 spectators left.
Though the band had'nt nearly rehearsed, this is considered as one of Jimi's most remarkable performances. The speaker announced the band as "Jimi Hendrix Experience", but Jimi changed it immidiately to "Gypsy Sun and Rainbows" when he entered the stage. He began the concert with his version of "Star Spangled Banner" diving into "Purple Haze" and continueed to play for two hours, one of his longest concerts ever. Even though the band and Jimi was under heavy influence of drugs, this performance is considered as a milestone in the history of music. Worth to mention is that most recordings from the concert left Larry Lee's guitar out or low mixed in the background, even though he performed two songs on his own and Jimi played backing guitar when he had some solos. The band did'nt last long, they just made two more gigs after Woodstock.
Mitchell left Hendrix under diffuse circumstances, and Jimi hired Buddy Miles to replace him. Since Jimi's royalties has been frozen by U.S court of law due to the incident in Toronto, he quickly put a trio together consisting of Cox, Miles and himself. He also made a promise to Ed Chalpin to deliver an album with original material, in order to get out of the lousy record deal written when he was with Curtis Knight.
The band rehearsed for about ten day's and made four concerts at the new Years eve and new Years day (1969/70), which was recorded to produce Hendrix only official "Live" album in his lifetime. The album, known as "Band of Gypsys", never sold any good, and Jeffrey who was unsatisfied with the new directions, was appearently thinking in economical aspects and had plans to get the Experience back on stage.
When Jimi and the band played on a support for the anti-Vietnam War Moratorium Committee at Madison Square Garden in the beginning of 1970, Jimi walked off the stage after just two songs stating: "That's what happens when earth fucks with space—never forget that". Buddy Miles later said that Jeffrey was trying to spoil the band by giving Jimi LSD before the concerts in order to bring back the Experience. If that was his intent, he succeeded and the band broke up after the concerts. Another thought was that Jimi were unhappy with Buddy Miles scatsinging in the background (a lot was edited out of the final release of "Band of Gypsys", stealing a bit of the spotlight from Jimi. Miles was however not playing in the same style that Mitchell did - Jimi had a conversation with Mitchell on stage in musical terms, and they used to play different rhythms towards eachother. (Mitchell was a former jazz drummer, and a pioneer in the art of "fusion" -drums, he was participating on Miles Davis album "Bitches Brew" but his contributions never made it to the final release)
The New Experience
Jeffrey contacted Mitchell/Redding, and because both were lacking money, they agreed to rejoin the new Experience. But the conflict between Jimi and Redding was still in place and he never rehearsed for the coming tour, known as the "Cry of Love Tour", where Billy Cox played instead. The tour was intended to pay for Jimi's loans on "Electric Lady Studios" (see below), as well as his tax problems and to get money for his next album. In between the gigs Jimi recorded in his own studio (that was nearly ready made by then)
After 30 gigs in the states that landed on Hawaii, the band took off to Europe for the European part of the Tour. They first played at the Isle of Wight -festival, where the performance was filmed, and later produced a lot of movies/records from the event. They continueed to play in Europe and after some chaotic incidents Billy Cox left and headed back to the U.S, reported achieving paranoia after abusing LSD.
Back in London he met up with Chandler, unhappy with his business-relationship with Jeffrey and talked about leaving him. He also gave Linda Keith (who he still admired) a black Stratocaster with all her letters to him in the casing. The last known appearance on stage was with Eric Burdon and his band "War" on a club in SoHo.
Jimi was found dead in his bed at the Samarkand Hotel, 22 Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, London, where his current girlfriend Monika Danneman lived. A lot of controversial theories has been published, since his death occured under diffuse circumstances. The official explanation is that he died of an overdose of sleeping pills in combination with a vast amount of red wine, causing him to literally drown in his own vomits.
Monika Danneman statements about the night has been contradictory and confused, but she often said that Hendrix was alive when placed in the ambulance, which is denied by both the police and ambulance personnel. (they also reported that Monika Danneman was'nt even there when they arrived) Monika Danneman later took her life in 1996, after a legal dispute with Kathy Etchingham who accused her beeing involved in Jimi's death.
Another theory is that he was murdered by Jeffrey, when Jimi told him that he wanted to quit their relationship. That theory was also backed up by what the autopsy doctor said: "The amount of wine that was over him was just extraordinary" and "I would have thought there was half a bottle of wine in his hair. He had really drowned in a massive amount of red wine."
A new conspiracy theory has been released in a movie, stating that CIA was responsible, since Hendrix had some aquaintancies in the "Black Panthers", a militant organisation for Afro-American peoples rights.
After his death
After Jimi's death the market were flooded with recordings, bootlegs etc. Eddie Kramer & Mitch Mitchell put four albums out that is considered as official recordings. Jimi's father Al, inherited Jimi's recordings and royalty rights, but where tricked by an attorney to sell them to his own shell companies. In the 90's Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen (who's a big fan of Hendrix) helped Al to regain control over the legacy. Several albums were then made and re-mastered from the original tapes.
Electric Lady Studios
Jimi and Mike Jeffrey originally bought "the Generation Club" (52 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village) in order to re-open it 1968, but decided to make it a recording studio instead. The recording fee's for "Electric Ladyland" was astronomous, and they thought that some money could be saved on having their own studio. Due to the fact that the building was lying over a river, the project took a long time and they had to loan money from Warner Brothers.
Electric Lady Studios was designed by sound expert John Storyk, and was originally very psychedelic with different machines for providing light and psychedelic paintings on the wall. Since it's opening party in August 1970, Jimi only recorded there the day after before leaving for Europe, although he was recording for some months earlier before it was ready-built.
Jimi and the girls
Jimi had many girlfriends in his life, and by the time Jimi's fame was at the peak, the Flower-Power movement was on the line - which had a theme considered to be "free sex". Supposedly, Hendrix had a lot of girlfriends on and off during his tours, but remained with particularily two. Kathy Etchingham, who he lived with in between the tours until 1969 and Monika Danneman, his girlfriend by the time of his death. Other women who were close to Jimi included: Linda Keith, Diane Carpenter (mother of his unofficial daughter), Fayne Pridgon (Sam Cooke's ex-girlfriend) and Devon Wilson (who died under mysterical circumstances by falling from a window in 1970)
Even that Jimi was reported to use LSD extensively during his career, he was'nt using any drugs except for alcohol and haschish before he met Linda Keith in 1967. No one ever saw him using heroine, but according to people who knew him he used amfetamine on occasion. He was reported beeing "violent" and angry when he drank alcohol, which also was mentioned as a reason for smashing the hotel room in Stockholm.
The authors comments
A lot of Jimi's music were made under influence of drugs, which a lot of unofficial recordings also proves, there are several recordings where Jimi's guitar is out of tune, he plays irrational and simply bad. But the fact still remains the same: He was one of the most innovative and finest musicians in our time! Since the 70's I've seen numerous documentaries, listened to A LOT of albums and read a lot of books. The conclusion can only be that Jimi was a true musician that loved to play, and don't bothered so much about anything else than his music. It is hard to know what's actually true or not, but with no doubth his legacy in music still lives on and will forever!
"I feel guilty when people say I'm the greatest on the scene. What's good or bad doesn't matter to me; what does matter is feeling and not feeling. If only people would take more of a true view and think in terms of feelings. Your name doesn't mean a damn, it's your talents and feelings that matter. You've got to know much more than just the technicalities of notes; you've got to know what goes between the notes." // Jimi Hendrix
Jimi's style is highly influented of blues and has an agressive edge. He used to play with his teeth sometimes and used legato techniques, his right thumb to fret notes and the whammy extensively. He had a technique of "painting" the chord adding notes around them to add color. He was also frequently using the wah-wah and experimented with feedback during his live performances. In the studio he was experimenting with new guitar sounds, pedals and even recorded the guitar backwards. He was also one of the first players to use distorsion, and played an important role in Marshall Amplifications fame.
Jimi was using Fender Stratocaster the most, even though he owned several other guitars listed below:
Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG, and Flying V (1967 and 1968 makes)
Danelectro Shorthorn (1959)
Supro Ozark 1560S Electric
Fender Duo-Sonic/Musicmaster (1961)
Three Rickenbacker's - a bass, a 6-, and a 12-string guitar
Martin D-45, new when bought; and an old Hofner electric.
For live use he always used Marshall's even though on some events he was seen playing Fender amps. The model Jimi preferred is known as the "Plexi" due to its plexi-front, and it's model is Super Lead 100. In the studio he used Vox and SUNN amps in addition to Marshall's and Fender's.
He is known for his extensively use of effects, uncommon at that time. He had a close relation to Roger Mayer, who designed several pedals for him. He also used the Uni-Vox Univibe, Vox Wah-Wah's, Arbiter Fuzz and several other fuzz units. Other units consists of: Dunlop Cry Baby, Roger Mayer Octavia, EchoPlex and the E-Bow. (which is by rumour used on "May this be love?" on "Are You Experienced")
Albums released during his lifetime:
With the Jimi Hendrix Experience:
Are You Experienced (1967)
Axis: Bold as Love (1967)
Electric Ladyland (1968)
With Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsys
Band of Gypsys (1970)
Official albums released after his death:
The Cry of Love (1971)
Rainbow Bridge (1971)
War Heroes (1972)
Loose Ends (1974)
(these albums were made by engineer Eddie Kramer & Mitch Mitchell)
Numerous compilations, concert bootlegs, old Curtis Knight recordings (in Jimi's name), unreleased material, jams in the studio etc. have been released. Since it's nearly impossible to list all of them, they are left out.
Albums worth to mention though are: Hendrix in the West, Crash Landing, Midnight Lightning, Soundtrack from the film "Jimi Hendrix" by Joe Boyd (live performances from Monterey, Berkeley and Isle of Wight")
Foxy Lady (Monterey 1967) / Burning the guitar (Wild Thing, Monterey 1967)
Red House (Woodstock 1969) / Star Spangled Banner (Woodstock 1969)
All along the watchtower (Isle of Wight 1970) / Voodo child (Isle of Wight 1970)